VIERA, Fla. — The Washington Nationals trimmed the roster to 35 Thursday, reassigning outfielder Jason Michaels and infielder Andres Blanco to minor league camp while optioning left-hander Atahualpa Severino to Triple-A. Both Michaels and Blanco have opt-outs on their minor league deals so the two players will have to decide in the coming days whether or not they would be willing to go to Triple-A for the Nationals or see if they can find a major league job elsewhere.
Michaels has indicated he may be willing to go to Triple-A and has discussed the situation with manager Davey Johnson as well as general manager Mike Rizzo.
“I’d like to keep him,” Johnson said of Michaels, who he termed as “the hardest” of the three to cut.
“I told him he doesn’t have anything to prove to me with the bat, just wasn’t quite a fit. I’d have killed for him last year but this year, with what we’re trying to accomplish and how I’m trying to get this team together where it fits… it just wasn’t quite there for him.”
With a rash of injuries to infielders in other camps this spring, particularly for division rival Philadelphia, Johnson speculated the Phillies could have some interest in Blanco.
Both are free to pursue major league opportunities elsewhere but Johnson was hoping both would remain in the Nationals’ organization if they cannot find big league work. Severino is expected to be a part of the bullpen at Triple-A Syracuse.
The latest round of cuts means the Nationals still have to trim 10 players from their roster in order to get it to 25 before Opening Day but it’s likely that five of those players will be moved to the disabled list: Cole Kimball (60-day), Chris Marrero (60-day), Michael Morse (15-day), Drew Storen (15-day), Chien-Ming Wang (15-day).
The moves also essentially mean that Brett Carroll, Xavier Nady and Chad Tracy are competing for two final spots on the Nationals’ bench. With Morse unlikely to start the season on the active roster but Adam LaRoche returning to the lineup Thursday, it appears unlikely that the Nationals will have a spot for Tracy, a fellow left-handed first baseman.
Nady and Carroll provide versatility and right-handed complements both in the outfield as well as at first base. Neither has an opt-out so they could be sent to the minor leagues if and when Morse is ready to return to the roster. Nady, of course, just arrived in minor league camp a little more than two weeks ago, so his performance in the next few days will also have some say in things.
Thursday’s decision also all but solidifies Steve Lombardozzi’s spot on the Nationals’ 25-man roster, though that had long been expected. The deciding factor for Lombardozzi has simply been if the Nationals can find enough at-bats for him in the big leagues. As long as they feel they’ll be able to get him at least 300 at-bats, he will have a spot on the team.
Catcher Carlos Maldonado, right-handers Ryan Perry, Chad Durbin and Craig Stammen as well as first baseman Chad Tracy appear the most likely to be cut in the final days.